Warriors look to preserve Oracle Arena atmosphere in San Francisco with seats closer to court

OAKLAND – Warriors president Rick Welts called this past season “an unqualified success” from a basketball and business perspective.

Despite firing their coach after not advancing past the first round of the playoffs, the Warriors did make it to the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time in 22 years. The Warriors also entered into an agreement to purchase land in San Francisco’s Mission Bay for a new arena slated to open in time for the 2018-19 season.

Welts knows that while the Warriors go for an NBA championship, the team also achieved a degree of certainty in purchasing private land. The project is doable as the team no longer has to wade through the politics of building an arena on the public property on Piers 30-32.

“The things we can focus on now for the arena are much more – how should I say it – rewarding,” Welts said Monday on the final day of the team’s fiscal year.

Golden State, which was recognized by the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily as the “Sports Team of the Year,” now can turn its attention to designing what co-owner Joe Lacob has said will be the “best arena in the world” and one that doesn’t lose what Oracle Arena already has.

“The issue is will we maintain the same atmosphere?” Lacob told KGO-TV earlier this month. “That is something that I worry about every single day. We’re concerned in the sense that I don’t want to make a mistake and have it not be the same atmosphere.”

Welts said he would call it “a mandate to architects” that the atmosphere at 19,500-seat Oracle Arena not only be preserved, but perhaps enhanced even though the design has not yet been finalized on a new arena that seats about 18,000.

“We believe we’re going to be able to say that every seat in the new arena is going to be as close if not closer than every seat currently is in Oracle,” Welts said.

“One of the ways that we’re going to accomplish this when we haven’t shown a lot of the interior design is that there will only be one ring of traditional suites instead of two stacked like at Oracle or at Staples (Center), where there’s three stacked suites. That really gives up the opportunity to more than maintain the intimacy.”

Welts said there is a design trick involved — he declined to reveal it — that would enable the new arena to have almost exactly the same number of suites on only one ring while fans get closer to the action. The goal is to have a smaller arena not be “too cavernous,” which is what Lacob said is the case at Staples Center where fans sit high up from the court.

Warriors fans are apparently responding to the team’s success on the court and the promise of a new arena, with the team having renewed 92 percent of its season ticket holders for next season. Welts said having a renewal rate of more than 90 percent for any team is “extraordinary.”

While the Warriors had a season ticket wait list of 5,300, about 1,000 of those seats were filled by fans from the wait list able to select seats this past weekend.

“Our hope is that we’re going to be bringing the fans that make Oracle such a special experience with us (to San Francisco),” Welts said, adding that he expected the vast majority of season ticket holders to renew for the new arena.

“Giving up your seat now makes it very unlikely you’re going to get a seat back when we make the move, so I think people are excited about the team, but I also think they’re protecting their real estate.”

Diamond Leung